Jakarta. When Australian illusionist Paul Cosentino came second in the 2011 Australia's Got Talent, he created many "firsts" on the magic scene in the land down under.
"That was the first time any magician in the world had gone that far in the 'Got Talent' franchise. And that created quite a bit of buzz all around the world, especially in the magic community of the world," he told Indonesian reporters in a phone interview last week.
He was the first Australian magician in history to have his television specials and to win the International Magicians Society's Merlin Awards — which is considered the highest award for illusionists. Cosentino is a multiple Merlin Award recipient — in 2012 he was named the "Most Original Magician," in 2013 the "International Magician of the Year," and won in the "Best Magic Kit" and "Escape Artist of the Year" categories in 2015.
Now he is launching a television series "The Elements: Cosentino" produced by AXN Asia. The show premieres on Thursday (18/01).
Cosentino started to learn magic when he was only 12 years old. While other kids had superheroes as their idols, Cosentino worshiped Harry Houdini, after he stumbled upon the magician's picture in a book about magic.
"Under the heading said: 'Nothing on earth can hold Houdini prisoner.' That message, that tagline, that phrase, was very powerful. That's because Houdini was a real life superhero. He wasn't in a movie. He wasn't make-believe. He was a real man that could knock through jail cell, pick locks, and walk through walls," Cosentino said.
This made him decide to learn magic.
"Unfortunately for me in Australia, when I started, there was no YouTube, there was no Google. I learned through books and I taught myself. I've never had a teacher. I've never had a mentor. It's a bit of a negative thing because it took longer to learn, but it was also positive because you learned by practice and learned by going out there and actually doing it," Cosentino said.
The influence of Houdini can be seen in his love for large-scale, death-defying stunts.
In Australia's Got Talent's grand finals, Cosentino spiced up Houdini's straitjacket trick. He was hung upside down and had to escape from the jacket in 82 seconds, otherwise a set of spikes and a flaming rope would trap and burn him.
"To this day, Houdini's name is synonymous with magic, so he holds a very special place in my heart," the 35-year-old said.
For Cosentino, a performance can take three months to prepare, but it takes years to be perfected.
"I'm not trying to exaggerate, but I've been working on them for many, many years. Some of them are two years old. Some of them are ten years old. It takes that much time to practice or hone the craft," he said.
The hardest trick in his experience is the underwater escape, where he is in chains in a water tank. Each time he does the trick, the set is improved — there are more locks to pick, a more complicated construction to escape from, or he must hold his breath for a longer time.
Sometimes the escapes do not proceed smoothly. One of his underwater acts got him seven stitches to his forehead. Another time, when he was hanging upside-down, he broke his ankle and rib.
"My escapes are real. In a previous TV show I created, I'd been slashed by knife over my head inside a box I was meant to escape. I mistimed it. When that happened, I ended up with 12 stitches through my chin and was rushed to the emergency room," he said.
He added that each time he learns to be more cautious because the danger is real.
"You plan, you try to control the horrible as much as you can," he said.
Indonesian Magic Scene
Cosentino has toured around the world and Asia, and Indonesia is one of his destinations. The illusionist performed in Trans Studio in Bandung, West Java, and in Makassar, South Sulawesi, in 2016.
He acknowledges and appreciates Indonesian magic masters, especially Deddy Corbuzier, whose popularity reached its peak in the late 1990s. Deddy, now a talk-show host, mentored many Indonesian magicians and often appears as a judge on TV shows such as "The Next Mentalist" and "The Master."
Cosentino said the next time he comes to Indonesia he would like to meet Deddy and two "Got Talent" alumni — Demian Aditya and the Sacred Riana.
He also observed the current trends on the Indonesian magic scene.
"Most of the magic that I've seen from Indonesia is a lot of mentalism, a lot of mind reading, which I think is great. I've seen many Indonesian magicians do a lot of my stuff and be inspired by them as well. I think what they’re doing is great. Everyone puts their own approach," he said.